My name is Ryan, and I married a soldier in the U.S. Army. Perhaps this isn't particularly uncommon, but there are a few things about being the civilian husband that may not be known.
I suppose I will start with a little about me. I am a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. I joined in 1998 and left active duty in 2005. In 2008 I met the woman who would become the mother of my two children. We separated in 2014. In the summer of 2015 I met the woman of my dreams. She was also separated and getting divorced. We met in a book store. How great! No internet hookups for this guy. At any rate, she also has two children from her previous marriage, so together we have four children. Four. All boys. Yikes! This is where things got a little strange for me.
When you are the male in a military relationship, you are automatically treated as the service member. It didn't seem to matter that I sport a goatee literally always, and most people know that being clean shaven is a requirement in garrison. That caused quite a lot of confusion when folks would ask if we were military, then ask me for MY I.D. Yeah, chief, she has it. Once people realize that SHE is the service member, you begin to be treated as if there is something wrong with you. I feel as though I am being looked down upon. As though I am less of a man because SHE is currently active duty. I have to tell you, it doesn't feel great. If you ever find yourself in my situation, understand that it probably isn't personal. There is a stigma still in place, one that people just can't let go of, even in 2018. Women as the service member still strikes a strange chord in people that they just can't seem to get over.
Let's talk about some other challenges. Some that are undeniably sexist without meaning to be. Facebook groups are set up all over for military wives. Wives. I mean it, they are strict about this. If you have a penis, forget about it. You can't join this group even if it is to collect information that you may need. There are wives clubs on post, wives days where you can bring the kids and have fun, so on, and so forth. No husbands days. No husbands clubs. I will say that when I found out most of the "wives" facebook pages were just catty women yelling at each other, it became a bit of a blessing in disguise.
Let's not forget about the biggest challenge of all. This does not apply only to husbands, but spouses of military members in general: The Army/Air Force/Navy/Marines/Coast Guard do not give a single flying F*** about you. You are not a priority. Don't think your significant other will be routinely be able to get out of work because you are sick and can't take care of the kids.
Now, I had a good job when I met my wife, with good benefits. I was happy at my job even though it could drive me absolutely crazy. Then something changed. I obtained custody of my two children, bringing our total up to four in the house. One of our children is not yet school-aged so after factoring in costs for after school care, daycare, and transportation costs, I was basically working JUST to pay other people to raise our children. We made it work for a while, though. Then, something changed. She was selected to leave for training. Three months unaccompanied. Those of you reading this that have been military spouses for a while are probably saying "Whoopty doo, three months. That isn't anything." While that is true, it was going to be extra difficult to hold down a job while maintaining the house and having four boys to look after. So we made a decision for me to be a stay-at-home dad. I have to tell you, it is a struggle.
The absolute worst part of it all, though, is that as a man there are very few resources available to me for help. I am having to do all of this the hard way, and if it weren't for a few select people in my neighborhood, I would be completely alone.
With all of this being said, here are a few survival tips for anyone stuck in my situation. This applies to men AND women:
1) Do NOT let yourself get overwhelmed. It is OK to not do the laundry one day, or not sweep the floor. I promise you, the world will NOT end.
2) Ensure that you take a little bit of time for yourself at least once a week. You are NOT a bad parent because you want to put the kids on a shelf every once in a while and have a little you time.
3) Network! Your neighbors may be more helpful than you would ever think!
4) GET. A. HOBBY! Sitting around while your significant other is gone will make it seem even longer than it really is. Don't just sit around and be miserable, go do something!
5) Stay in touch with your loved one! I know communication can be spotty from time to time, but get an address. Send a letter. Send a text message every day.
This is part one of a series of articles I plan to write about being a military husband.